How Telemedicine is Changing Healthcare Financial Models
With the advancement of technology permeating every aspect of our lives, the mass digitization of healthcare isn’t far off. When COVID-19 struck the United States, it was evident that the need for telemedicine services was urgent—and as healthcare becomes an increasingly digitized industry, telemedicine is proving to be a necessary innovation for safe and successful patient care. Understanding how telemedicine is changing healthcare seems straightforward: more patients need remote access to their physicians, so more physicians are making themselves digitally available to their patients.
But what are the other benefits of an increase in telehealth services? How is it improving the overall patient experience? And what effect does this have on the investors backing healthcare systems? The answer to these questions and more lies within the answer to an even simpler question.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is the treatment and diagnosis of patients through methods of electronic communication, including computers, telephones, and other digital devices. Electronic communications can include video calls, emails, image sharing, teleconferencing, and much more. Today, telehealth services are widely used in medical fields such as dermatology, behavioral or mental health, and cardiology.
Is Telemedicine a Trend in Healthcare?
Although telemedicine has been around for more than 40 years, it was originally only used to transmit images, videos, and complex medical data. However, in recent years, telemedicine has been growing across a majority of healthcare and IT sectors, changing the general approach to the medical industry and improving healthcare quality.
How Does Telemedicine Affect Healthcare?
Benefits of Telemedicine Services
So how is telemedicine changing healthcare? There are many ways in which telemedicine is improving the industry. From increasing ease of access to doctors to reducing healthcare costs, telemedicine is helping healthcare professionals become efficient with their time and supervise their patients more consistently.
Access to Doctors
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we have seen a shortage of doctors and physicians in the United States. According to the Columbia Business School, the US is expected to have a shortage of over 120,000 doctors by 2030. With a dwindling supply of physicians and increasing demand for healthcare services, finding specialists for specific conditions can be a difficult task. Telemedicine, however, can complement in-person visits through virtual consultations, allowing patients more options for how they receive their care and from whom.
Through remote consultations, patients have the option to opt out of in-person visits for non-emergency illnesses and injuries, and they can even receive a diagnosis and treatment from home 24/7. This increase in access saves both patients and healthcare providers plenty of time because minor conditions can be addressed before they turn into major complications. Another benefit of telemedicine is that it allows patients with limited access to transportation or healthcare services, like those living in rural areas who may be required to drive miles to reach a healthcare facility, to connect with a provider.
Reduce Healthcare Costs
A simple medical visit can cost thousands of dollars for a number of reasons, including:
- Patients making unnecessary trips to expensive facilities such as the emergency room
- Some patients in need of rehabilitation need to stay in a hospital room so that a doctor may monitor them
Telemedicine can help alleviate some of these problems and reduce unnecessary costs. Instead of having a patient rush to the emergency room, they can virtually contact a doctor for treatment and advice on whether a visit to the ER is necessary. Patients who rely on regular monitoring can keep their physicians updated through medical video visits, which allows them to avoid paying hospital fees.
Consistent Patient Monitoring
As previously stated, telemedicine allows virtual monitoring for patients who may lack access to reliable transportation. Telemedicine offers convenient and regular check-ups with a primary care physician from the comfort of the patient’s home by allowing doctors to continually check in on their patients through teleconferences and remote monitoring devices.
These devices can also collect patient data in real-time, including heart rate, oxygen levels, and blood pressure. This data can trigger alerts to the healthcare provider if something is wrong with a patient’s vital signs and even schedule an in-person visit if necessary.
Faster Diagnosis and Treatment of Strokes
As with most medical emergencies, the sooner a patient receives treatment after a stroke, the better their chance of survival. Telemedicine offers a new form of treatment for strokes known as Telestroke Services, which has been shown to improve patient outcomes in the following ways:
- Access to an expert neurologist via video conference call for patients who lack access to expert physicians, which is a common issue for populations in rural areas
- Receiving better treatment and diagnosis methods through video calls, such as managing a stroke victim properly even while they are in the ambulance
- Patients with access to Telestroke Services are treated at least 20 minutes faster than the average stroke patient
Disadvantages of Telemedicine
With advantages come disadvantages, and as people learn to adjust to new technology, remote healthcare has a few. Physicians’ main concern is that telemedicine does not allow them to build the same rapport with new patients the way in-person visits would. Other areas of concern include:
Technological Learning Curve
While in-person visits only require a patient to show up to their appointment, telehealth services require technology that some patients—especially an older age group—may not be familiar with using.
Technology can come with many disadvantages, including technical problems and connectivity issues, that can result in a major problem if medical attention is needed.
Lack of Communication
For patients who aren’t able to communicate verbally, physicians rely heavily on body language and non-verbal cues, which can often be missed with telehealth.
Lack of Physical Testing
Although some testing can be ordered remotely, tests such as MRIs, X-rays, and CT scans require in-person visits to a healthcare facility.
Because telehealth services are usually accessible through video visits or phone calls, vulnerable and at-risk populations who lack access to such technologies cannot utilize these services.
How Telemedicine is Changing Healthcare
Ultimately, telehealth services require proper communication by both the physician and the patient to function fully. And because some chronic conditions, like cancer, still require in-person visits, telehealth will never completely replace traditional in-person visits. Still, it can certainly complement traditional healthcare models.
As the world becomes increasingly digital, it’s important for health services to adapt as well. With the growing use of smartphones and widespread access to the internet, telemedicine is predicted to receive huge growth in the years to come—pioneering healthcare innovations, lowering costs, and improving access to care—providing ripe opportunities for investors looking to make their move into the healthcare sector.
For the past 20 years, Ken Ro has dedicated his time in the financial services industry. Prior to joining ZT Corporate, he assisted in starting the Platinum Global Advisors, LLC. He was also a part of the Private Client Services division of Deutsche Bank PWM as a top producing advisor, a Vice President of Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management, and a Vice President at UBS Private Wealth Management. In addition to wealth management, Ken also has experience in capital raise and business development as Director of Business Development for Group 11. Ken Ro received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Finance from the University of Southern California.